Simon, at the Opening of the Geneva
Disarmament Conference, 8 February 1932*
When the suggestion was made that in the opening debate which begins to-day, Great Britain should speak the first word, it was hoped and intended that that word should be spoken by Mr. Ramsay MacDonald. I am sure that I am expressing the sentiments of you all, as well as my own strong feeling, when I say how deeply we regret the enforced absence of the British Prime Minister, and the cause of it. The latest message from London gives the cheering news that he is making a good recovery and he is resolved, when he is better, to take part in our deliberations in due course.
2. In these preliminary discussions, to which I have the honour and responsibility of making a first contribution, we must take a general view of the problems before us, but we must avoid wasting time and exhausting the opportunity in mere generalities. More than ten years of intensive study have been consumed in the work of preparation for this Disarmament Conference and, as the President rightly asserted in his opening speech, this period of preparatory work was absolutely necessary. Mr. Henderson, you will remember, quoted the observation of M. Briand last year that if the attempt had been made to call together the conference ten years ago, the lack of adequate preparation would certainly have brought disaster in its train. This is a case in which the English proverb “More haste, less speed” applies, and now the time has come for us to bend our energies in a united effort to make a fruitful use of the results of so much preparation.
3. It may well be admitted that those who signed the Covenant on the 28th June, 1919, and the States who ratified it early in the following year, hardly contemplated that it would not be until February 1932 that the first Disarmament Conference would actually meet. After the armistice, nations that were still bleeding from the scourge of four years of war were united in desiring to reduce without delay the risk of renewed conflict by the reduction of national armaments by the method of international agreement. That intention is both explicit and implicit in the Treaty of Versailles. It was the general resolve, in all quarters and in all good faith, to strike while the iron was hot and to apply the painful lessons of the war while those lessons were fresh in our minds.
Yet the difficulties have proved so great and the work of preparation has of
*Parliamentary Papers, 1931–32, XXVII, Cmd., 4018, 2–8.